Friday, March 14, 2008

Shared Learning Environments or "what is teaching?"

A number of people have been thinking about how to develop "personal learning environments" which are tools or platforms for gathering information and ideas together, but Stan Shanier suggests that in addition to needing tools to manage one's own learning, there also needs to be tools to learn together--- a idea that he calls: "shared learning environments".

Personal Learning Environments are a compelling concept and one that makes huge sense whatever angle you look at it from. However, I can’t help feeling there’s something missing or simply something wrong with the terminology? We cannot escape the fact that, in order to learn, we need other people. Both formal and informal learning requires human interaction – whether that be the words of someone written down, media others have created or the acknowledgement from others of our grasp of concepts.
For me this translates into classrooms, schools and other learning spaces. The problem is that when you mention these concepts it is easy to get locked in on existing versions. For example, most of the existing online learning management systems recreate the tools and processes of F2F classrooms with lectures, assignments, multiple choice exams and the like and with a rhythm of weekly activities, etc. It has been hard to break out of this mindset and begin to understand that we do not have to replicate all the structures of the F2F classroom online. Many of these structures exist because you had to manage people moving in a limited physical space.

So here is my beginning list of the things that I want a shared learning environment to have from the perspective of a teacher:

  • Multiple ways of creating content (text, audio, video)
  • A series of formats or structures (both small and large) to convey ideas.
  • Ways to create multiple paths through content.
  • Ways to communicate synchronously
  • Ways to communicate asynchronously
  • Tools to check understanding, comprehension.
  • Tools to create complex illustrations

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